Dunefield and Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Autumn
Dunefield and Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Autumn

NPS/Patrick Myers

Management History

Monument and Park Establishment

Great Sand Dunes National Monument was established in 1932 by Herbert Hoover, in response to a local citizens' effort spearheaded by the Ladies' PEO chapters in the San Luis Valley. In the 1920s, gold was found in the Great Sand Dunes. Active gold mining in the sand, and sand extraction for cement, production began to occur.

San Luis Valley residents became concerned about long-term protection of the Great Sand Dunes. An intense but remarkably short and successful campaign to gain support and protection for the dunes ensued, culminating in President Hoover's Proclamation:

"Whereas it appears that the public interest would be promoted by including the lands hereinafter described within a national monument for the preservation of the Great Sand Dunes and additional features of scenic, scientific, and educational interest….now therefore I, Herbert Hoover…do proclaim and establish the Great Sand Dunes National Monument…"

Hoover's proclamation focuses on the preservation of the dunes, giving us clear guidance on one of primary interpretive stories: the dunes themselves, our primary resource. We are equally clearly directed to also protect and interpret the 'additional features' which make this landscape so diverse and captivating.

On November 22, 2000, Congress passed the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000, which authorized the expansion of the national monument into a national park almost four times its original size. Like the proclamation of 1932, it was powered largely by valley residents who banded together to protect the resources important to them; in this more modern era, groundwater. Perhaps most importantly, the legislation authorized the eventual purchase of privately held property from willing sellers for inclusion in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Lands identified as vital to the protection of park resources included the area known as "The Baca", owned for the past two decades by a consortium of commercial water developers. The Baca includes the northwestern corner of the dunefield, wetlands, nesting and migratory bird habitat, and numerous archaeological sites. This purchase, finalized on September 10, 2004, enabled the Secretary of the Interior to affirm that "sufficient diversity of resources has been acquired to warrant designation of the land as a national park" on September 13, 2004. Great Sand Dunes National Monument was redesignated as a national park.

As part of the Act of 2000, roughly 42,000 acres of national forest wilderness area were immediately transferred to NPS management, and were renamed the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. Natural resources in this area are quite different from those in the older national monument or the expanded national park, and include alpine tundra and lakes, extensive virgin subalpine forest, aspen forests, and high elevation wetlands. Further land transfers from the BLM to NPS management were authorized on the west and south sides of the old monument.

The park and preserve now protect most of the dunes natural hydrological system, from mountain watershed to wetlands, ensuring "the perpetuation of the entire ecosystem for the enjoyment of future generations." Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is also administered under the provision of the Organic Act of 1916, which specifies that units of the National Park system are: "to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein…and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

National Significance

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve:

  • contains the tallest dunes in North America and one of the most fragile and complex dune systems in the world

  • protects a globally significant, water- and wind-driven system, which includes creeks that demonstrate surge flow, a rare hydrologic phenomenon

  • provides tremendous scenic settings that, for many, provoke strong emotional responses. These settings (including massive dunes surrounded by alpine peaks, a desert valley, creeks flowing on the surface of the sand, pristine mountains, and rural range land) offer spacious relief from urban America, exceptional solitude and quiet, and a remarkably unspoiled day and night sky

  • hosts a great diversity of plants and animals, including insect species found nowhere else on earth. The system, which spans high desert to alpine life zones, supports rare biological communities that are mostly intact and functional

  • contains some of the oldest (9,000+ years before present) known archeological sites in America. The dunes have been identified as having special importance by people of various cultures, and the area is recognized for the culturally diverse nature of human use

  • provides special opportunities for recreation, exploration, and education in the highly resilient dune mass and adjoining creek environments.

Park Purpose Statement

The purpose of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is to:

  • preserve spectacular and unique sand dunes and their high elevation watersheds and to perpetuate the entire system for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations

  • provide long-term protection of the geological, hydrological, ecological, scenic, scientific, cultural, wilderness, educational, wildlife, and recreational resources of the area, including the sand deposits associated with the dune mass and the ground water system on which the sand dune and wetland systems depend, and the remarkable biodiversity evident in the landscape from the valley floor to the mountain crest

  • provide opportunities for visitors to experience, understand, enjoy, and gain a sense of stewardship for the park's natural and cultural resources

  • facilitate research to support park management, and to promote scientific knowledge and education

Mission Statement

The mission statement is a visionary summary that conveys the essence of the park qualities to be protected and understood, forging an intellectual and emotional connection between people and the national heritage.

Majestic and austere, the Great Sand Dunes rise from a high mountain valley flanked by some of the tallest peaks in the Rocky Mountains. Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve celebrates the entire natural system of the Great Sand Dunes as well as a rich and living connection with ancient and modern peoples. Our mission is to offer visitors opportunities for learning, solitude, and a growing sense of stewardship in an accessible and undeniably enticing natural setting. The National Park Service works with park partners, neighbors, and the American public to protect this treasure forever.

Primary Interpretive Themes

Primary interpretive themes are the most important ideas and concepts communicated to the public about the park. They are the core of all interpretive programs and media provided to park visitors.

  • The unexpected combination of massive dunes surrounded by alpine peaks, a desert valley, and creeks flowing on the surface of the sand makes Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve a unique landscape that inspires awe, mystery, and wonder.

  • Although the active dune field appears stark, in reality, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is a rich and complex environment ranging from desert valley floor to snow-capped mountain peaks, where many different plants and animals live in a variety of distinct natural communities.

  • The tall dunes and the life they support are the most visible indicators of the health of the natural system that extends beyond park boundaries. To protect the ecological health of the park, the National Park Service must partner with the larger community.

  • Just as human survival is dependent upon water, this complex, dynamic dune system, with its distinctive geological and biological character, is dependent on the area's unusual, fragile, and near-pristine water system for its continued existence.

  • The same physical characteristics that influenced the formation of the sand dunes created a cultural crossroad, resulting in a landscape of special significance to many people over thousands of years.

  • The Wilderness areas within Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve offer spacious relief from urban America, exceptional solitude and quiet, and a remarkably unspoiled day and night sky.

Last updated: October 18, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

Visitor Center
11999 State Highway 150

Mosca, CO 81146


(719) 378-6395

Contact Us